On April 2, deja-vu struck at The Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center in New York City—I watched Samsung pull the veil off a TV that I saw a couple of weeks ago at my local Best Buy. It was the JS9500, Samsung’s top TV for 2015.
The JS9500 series “SUHD” TVs are FALD (full-array local dimming) LCDs that incorporate quantum dots—aka Nano-Crystals in Samsung’s parlance. The headline features of these 4K/UHD TVs are HDR (high dynamic range) capability and extended color gamut. According to Samsung, the SUHD models render 92% of the DCI-P3 gamut, the color standard used in commercial cinemas.
The Technology Seminar
The day started with an hours-long, invitation-only seminar aimed at TV reviewers. Kevin Miller—one of the top pro calibrators in the business—gave an informative presentation about best practices for calibrating the latest TVs and optimizing settings for HDR playback on the JS9500. As a bonus, everyone in attendance scored a USB thumb drive with HDR-mastered content from Life of Pi and Exodus. I look forward to using that content in a review of a Samsung SUHD TV.
One of the most interesting aspects of the seminar was a comparison of four different TVs. Three displays were 65″ LED-LCDs—a JS9500, a 2014 Samsung UHD TV, and what was obviously a Sony UHD TV, though it was explicitly not identified. The fourth was a 65″ OLED UHD TV—again, not identified but obviously an LG. The JS9500 played specially mastered clips from Exodus with HDR and DCI-P3 color, while the other three TVs played BT.709-mastered content (theBlu-ray standard). There was an undeniable richness directly attributable to DCI-P3, and the improved contrast offered by HDR made the images pop compared to the Blu-ray version.
Part of the demonstration involved a comparison of BT.709 footage on all four screens, with an emphasis on the differences between the OLED and Samsung SUHD. It was very interesting because the OLED had the upper hand in terms of contrast, whereas the LCDs seemed to reproduce shadow detail and color with greater accuracy.
The OLED TV I saw at the demo had a tendency to crush shadow detail. It was not the first time I’ve seen an OLED display do that, so it did not come as a surprise. It also suffered from a noisier image than the three LCDs, which TV reviewer and pro calibrator David Mackenzie—of HDTVtest fame—attributed to undefeatable sharpening. Furthermore, the OLED exhibited clear problems with color tracking. Much like some other OLEDs I’ve seen, it rendered turquoise shades as green.
While it was true that the LCDs—and the JS9500 in particular—outperformed the OLED in terms of color accuracy and shadow rendition, the FALD algorithm used in the Samsung JU9500 was not able to overcome the inherently lower native contrast that haunts transmissive LCD displays.
When viewed in the dark, shadow regions on the JS9500 SUHD exhibited elevated black levels and noticeable blooming. Additionally, the three LCD’s were almost unwatchable when viewed significantly off-axis. Unfortunately, it appears you have to choose between the ultimate contrast of OLED and greater color/shadow-detail accuracy offered by flagship LCDs. As of 2015, the perfect display does not yet exist.
The Press Event
When the technology seminar ended, our group made its way to Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room for the press event, dubbed “Spring into Color.” The gathering covered Samsung’s entire 2015 4K/UHD TV lineup.
Of course, the JS9500 curved SUHD was the star of the show, and the company was not shy about making unconditional claims regarding its superlative performance. Bill Lee—Samsung America VP of TV Product Marketing—unveiled the JS9500 and touted its image quality as “the best possible” thanks to Nano-Crystals.
Bill Lee talks about the virtues of Nano-Crystals aka quantum dots.
As I noted earlier, the unveiling was a bit superfluous since the JS9500 is already in stores. The upshot is that the TVs looked the same at the press event and in the showroom—HDR undeniably adds a level of pop and saturation that clearly differentiates it. The problem is a lack of content—there are no HDR-mastered movies or TV shows available to consumers now.
I asked a Samsung rep about the HDR content issue. He said the company plans to offer an “HDR Video Pack” that is not unlike the “UHD Video Pack” it provided last year, back when UHD/4K content was nearly impossible to obtain.
The final phase of Samsung’s Spring into Color event involved a line show on the ballroom floor. It was packed in the Rainbow Room, and the atmosphere was (almost) more cocktail party than press conference. Super-saturated UHD eye-candy footage played on every screen. In the following video clip, an enthusiastic rep named Jesse from Samsung offered his explanation of the benefits of DCI-P3 color gamut combined with HDR, as compared to BT.709.
The 65″ version of the flagship JS9500 is available now and sells for $6000. Info on the 88-incher’s price and availability is coming soon.
Other 2015 SUHD models include the 78″ JS9100 ($10,000)—shipping in May—and the already-shipping JS9000 series, available in three sizes: 48″ for $3500, 55″ for $4000, and 65″ for $5000.
All the models I’ve mentioned so far are curved, but Samsung has included a flat series in its SUHD lineup—the JS8500—and it’s available in two screen sizes: 55″ for $3000 and 65″ for $4000. This model is already shipping.
Standard UHD models—which lack the capacity to show expanded color gamut or HDR content—include the JU6700 priced at 40″ for $950, 48″for $1,150, 55″ for $1,500, and 65″ for $2,700. Samsung says the model will be available this spring.
The step-up JU7500 series prices are set at 40″ for $1400, 48″for $1,600, 55″ for $2000, and 65″ for $3000, and 78″ for $6000. As with the JU6700, Samsung expects to ship them this spring.
Finally, Samsung launched a flat UHD TV, the JU7100. It’s available in five sizes: 40″ for S1400, 50″ for $1500, 55″ for $1800, 60″ for $2500, 65″ for $3000, and 75″ for $5000. The company says this series will ship in April.
Samsung’s SUHD models promise a new level of picture quality thanks to support for HDR and wide-gamut color that approaches DCI-P3. It’s a potent combo, as long as you have content that takes advantage of it. I hope that content will arrive soon, since TVs that can play it are already in stores.